I absolutely love, love, love Steven Rowley’s Lily and the Octopus, a heartbreaking novel about a man and his dog. If you have or have ever loved a dog, cat or [insert pet here], Lily and the Octopus is a must-read. Fair warning: it’s not an easy read, and will take you apart emotionally, but it’s so very worth it.
Steven was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book. Check out the Q&A below, and read my experience with the book here.
- This book feels intensely personal to me, and I know from the author’s note that this was inspired by personal experience. How did it feel to put it all down on paper?
While Lily and the Octopus is very much a novel, there’s no denying that it’s very personal. I did have a dog named Lily who succumbed to cancer in 2013. When I first sat down to write, I started by making a list of memories. Silly memories, happy memories, harrowing memories. Meals we shared. “Conversations” we had. This was about six months or so after she died. Enough time had passed that I could reflect back on our time together with a smile. Before then it had been to painful. Once I knew I could sit with these memories and could include them in my writing, I was off to the races.
The final product is a joy for me to have. Snapshots of our life together sandwiched between two hardcovers. When I first received my copies of the book hot off the printer, I felt like I had finally brought her home.
- Why do you think it takes Ted so long to call the octopus out for what it really is? What is it about thinking of it as an octopus that helps him deal with the situation?
I’m fascinated by the brain’s ability to create these elaborate constructs to keep us from having to see what is right in front of us. Sometimes it’s a selfish denial, other times it’s self-preservation. There’s some part of Ted that knows he has to face letting go. Not just letting go of a loved one, but of anger, of ways in which he feels he’s been wronged. But he’s not quite ready to do that when we meet him; having an octopus as a foe, something with tentacles and suction cups that can have a stranglehold, steels him for a fight. The ultimate lesson for Ted is when to stop fighting.
- Have you always been a dog person, and if not, what made you fall in love with dogs or pets in general?
I grew up with dogs and cats – I remember five dogs and two cats from my youth – but it wasn’t until I had Lily, until I raised a dog of my own, that I considered myself a dog person. I think as a young man I had a problem expressing emotion. I think cats also have trouble expressing emotion (or perhaps not, and I just don’t like the emotions they express). But dogs, dogs are pure emotion and I just instinctually knew I had something to learn from them. From that realization on I was enamored.
- Who are your favourite writers, and is your writing influenced by anyone in particular?
I think Lily and the Octopus is influenced by Joan Didion, certainly Kipling (quotes from The Law of the Jungle serve as the book’s two epigraphs), as well as other writers of fables. Opening the book with a quote from The Jungle Book helps underscore the fable elements of Lily and the Octopus. I also am a huge fan of blurring lines between prose and poetry, building a rhythm and cadence through word choice, sentence length, repetition, and other literary devices that Kipling excels at.
Other writers who have inspired me include John Steinbeck (East of Eden is a particular favorite), Michael Chabon, Donna Tartt, Jonathan Franzen, Richard Russo and Francesca Lia Block, whose book Weetzie Bat (another prose poem) was handed to me at a critical moment in my life.
- I love Ted and Lily’s conversations about celebrity crushes. If this story were to be made into a movie, who do you think Lily would choose to play Ted, and what will Ted think of that choice?
There are particular actors I imagine in the role of Ted, actors who have an inherent sadness to them and can convey a lot by doing very little. A certain stillness is important. Ewan McGregor and Jake Gyllenhaal are two actors who I think are wildly underappreciated. Paul Rudd, I think, has untapped dramatic range. Jude Law. I think dog’s see their humans a bit starry-eyed, so I think Lily would think the bigger the celebrity wattage the better. She does suggest including Chris Pratt in their conversations right from the opening chapter. So let’s go with him as Lily’s choice.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, and thank you to Steven Rowley for responding to my questions!
This Q&A is part of the Simon and Schuster Canada Perfect Pairing Summer Fiction Blog Tour. Check out , the full schedule below, join the discussion on Twitter with the hashtag #ReadChillRepeat, and check out readchillrepeat.com for a chance to win Lily and the Octopus, the other books featured on the tour, and a year of free coffee from aroma espresso bar!